Editor’s note: The author is a former CIA agent who was the first to confirm the agency’s secret waterboarding program and publicly describe it as “torture.” The government responded by charging him with leaking classified information to a reporter after which he was convicted and spent 30 months in a high-security federal prison from 2013 to 2015.
The White House is insisting that Gina Haspel move forward in nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, despite her own concerns that the Senate hearings—expected to begin Wednesday—could turn brutal over her history in the CIA’s torture program. The Trump administration would be smart to heed her concerns.
Predictably, progressives like Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, and Bernie Sanders have come out strongly against her. Libertarian Republican Senator Rand Paul said not only that he’ll vote against Haspel, but that he’ll filibuster her nomination. Paul does that kind of thing to nominees who have a background in the CIA’s torture program—he also filibustered, albeit unsuccessfully, John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director when President Obama made that appointment in 2013.
But in addition to progressive and libertarian concerns, there is also a conservative case to be made against Haspel—and certainly a Christian case against her.
Almost none of my progressive friends know that I’m a former adjunct professor of intelligence studies at Liberty University, the right-wing evangelical university founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Liberty prides itself on its record of turning out conservatives and evangelicals and preparing them for a lifetime of activism. While there, I was assigned to the Helms School of Government, named after the late Republican senator Jesse Helms, one of the most deeply conservative members that body has ever seen. I genuinely liked and respected every professor and administrator I encountered at the Helms School, and I consider many of them to be my friends.
When Liberty first offered me a job, I asked, “Why would you want somebody like me? We will probably end up disagreeing on 99 percent of issues.” The response was quick: “Because torture is not Christian.” I accepted the position and I’m glad I did.
One of my closest friends at Liberty, a man whom I considered to be something of a mentor, was Dr. Charles Murphy. Chuck is a patriot, a minister, and a former CIA officer. He’s immensely proud of his CIA career, which he completed before earning a Ph.D. and going into academia. At the end of my first semester at Liberty, he shared with me the final exam for his intelligence analysis class, so simple yet so profound that it has stuck with me all these years. It forms the basis of what I believe is the conservative, evangelical Christian case against Gina Haspel.
Chuck’s final had only four questions. The first was this: let’s say you are a CIA operations officer. You’ve just captured one of the most important terrorists in the world. You know from other sources that there is a bomb about to go off in two hours in a major American city, but you don’t know exactly where. You know that the terrorist knows the details of the attack. Do you torture him? Explain your answer.
Question two made things a little more difficult. You torture the terrorist and he doesn’t tell you anything. But you have his wife in custody, too. You know that she knows her husband’s secrets. She has the information you need to prevent the attack. Do you torture her? Explain your answer.
Question three is a little more existential. You’ve tortured the wife, but she’s a true believer. She doesn’t tell you anything. You have the couple’s children in custody. Do you torture the children in front of the parents to force the parents to talk? Explain your answer.
Question four brought the exam all together. Its simplicity and directness were like a punch in the face: you’re standing before the judgment seat of Christ. He asks you to explain your actions. What do you tell him?
Chuck was right. Torture isn’t Christian. It’s hard to even ask rhetorically “Who would Jesus torture?” because the question is so absurd on its face. The Gospels make it crystal clear that Jesus wouldn’t have ever tortured anybody. We know from Matthew 18:21-22 “Then came Peter to him and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’” That’s clear enough for me. But if there’s any doubt, it’s dispelled in Romans 12:14: “Bless them which persecute you; bless and curse not.”
That brings us back to Gina Haspel. I have no doubt that she considers herself to be a patriot, as her supporters do. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is respect for the rule of law. Since the end of World War II, we have had laws in this country that specifically ban exactly those torture techniques implemented and overseen by Gina Haspel at a secret prison overseas. And the United States is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Indeed, we were the primary drafters of that measure, which, having been ratified by the Senate, has the force of law in the United States.
If Gina Haspel had any doubts about her “orders” from the CIA hierarchy, she had only to look at recent history. Just after the end of World War II, the United States executed Japanese soldiers who had waterboarded American prisoners of war. Similarly, in January 1968, the Washington Post published a front-page photo of an American soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered an investigation. The soldier was arrested, charged with torture, convicted, and sentenced to 20 years at Leavenworth.
Torture was illegal in 1946. It was illegal in 1968. And it was illegal in 2002, no matter what Bush Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee said. The law was clear.
Donald Trump has made up his mind. He wants Gina Haspel in power. The Senate can still prevent that. And if “Christians” in the Senate have any doubt about what to do when the Haspel nomination finally hits the Senate floor, they need look no further than their Bibles. Gina Haspel has no business heading the CIA.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA analyst and case officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is currently an activist for the whistleblower community, a radio host, and the author of the recent book The Convenient Terrorist: Two Whistleblowers’ Stories of Torture, Terror, Secret Wars and CIA Lies, with Joseph Hickman.